Festival showcase: the origin of our species

Event information

The last decade has brought a multitude of discoveries of ancient human remains, which have led scientists to rethink our ancestral history. Join celebrated human origins expert Chris Stringer as he tackles some of the scientific controversies and current issues around who we are and where we came from.

Background

Stringer is a Research Leader in Human Origins at the Natural History Museum and is one of the leader proponents of the African origin hypothesis, which theorises that modern humans originated in Africa over 100,00 years ago. Modern humans somehow replaced the world’s archaic humans, such as Homo floresiensis and Neanderthals, after migrating out of Africa within the last 50,000-100,000 years.

Neanderthals were historically believed to be the ancestors of our species, with primitive multi-variance statistics being used to determine objectively how different our skulls were- and therefore whether the neanderthals were transitioning closer to our species through time. However, research done by Stringer did not support the idea of an evolutionary transition, with modern humans and Neanderthals seeming consistently different from each other.

45894-skulls
Both human skulls (left) and Neanderthal skulls (right) have large brains but differently shaped skulls, with Neanderthals exhibiting a longer and lower skull, larger brow bones, swept back cheek bones and a less developed chin.

Stringer’s theory argues that modern humans migrated out of Africa to replace these other species, rather than evolving from them. Future work will map the spread of modern humans across the globe and their interaction with Neanderthals will also be explored to see how much they overlapped; this will provide insight into where interbreeding may have happened between species and allow us to build a more complete genetic story of our origins.

If you’d like to learn more about Stringer’s work and see him tackle some of the scientific controversies around who we are and where we came from, you can find out more information about his talk at the Festival here.

 

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